A weak but watery Hurricane Danny drenched the Louisiana coast and crept toward Alabama today, killing a man whose sailboat apparently swamped.
With winds just barely reaching 75 mph hurricane level, Danny moved through the Gulf of Mexico and was expected to come ashore in the hurricane warning area between Gulfport, Miss., and Apalachicola, Fla., early Saturday, dumping 10 to 20 inches of rain along the way.
The first death attributed to the storm occurred in Fort Morgan, a beach community south of Mobile, where a deputy found a beached sailboat on the coast with the body of an unidentified man lying in the rough surf.
Danny, the second hurricane of the Atlantic season that began June 1, was barely strong enough to be classified a hurricane, but it set off tornado warnings in the upper Gulf. One tornado was reported to have touched down at a marina in Orange Beach, near the Alabama-Florida line, causing some structural damage but no injuries.
The hurricane caused a five-foot storm surge in Louisiana and snapped utility poles, submerged cars and destroyed trailer homes. But it was not the kind of damage that alarms people who are accustomed to seeing nature's fury.
The main threat appeared to be flooding.
"We are staying," said Vicki Bruce of Lexington, Tenn., who was vacationing with her family at Alabama's Orange Beach. "I think there is more danger trying to get out with the traffic so bad. There is more danger getting hurt in a traffic accident than in the storm."
With the skies darkening, many businesses along Alabama's coast boarded up their windows. Cars streamed north through the rain as vacationers left motels and condos for home or drier ground. Gov. Fob James Jr. activated the National Guard and sent 30,000 sandbags to coastal areas as a precaution.
People in low-lying areas, trailer homes and recreational vehicles were advised to leave, but were not ordered to go.
"We opened six shelters," said Mobile County Emergency Management Agency Director John Van Hook. "There's hardly anyone in any of them."
Tonight, the center of the storm was about 50 miles west-southwest of Pensacola, Fla., and moving to the east-northeast at 6 mph. Danny appeared to be on a path that would spare Mississippi's casinos along the coast.
"Looks like we lucked out on this one," said Wally Ramage, who operates a shop offering fuel and bait in Gulfport. "We've had heavy rains and three-foot tides, but the sky is brightening."
Along Florida's Panhandle, the area's military bases secured planes in hangars or sent them to other bases. Some tourists were canceling reservations, but many who had already checked in were staying.
"As long as they don't evacuate the beach, then we'll be fine," said Sam Waghalter, manager of the Hampton Inn at Pensacola Beach. "People who are here on vacation, that's what they are here for so they are going to wait it out."
On Dauphin Island, Mike Flowers said he had no plans to leave his home and rated Danny a minor disturbance. "I'm 73 years old," he said. "I've been through all of these."
Many thought that, too, in Louisiana, but suffered when Danny was upgraded to hurricane rank early today and stormed through the swamps.
As Danny moved across Grand Isle, Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island, it piled water five feet deep, swamping cars and trucks but sparing most houses, which are built on stilts. The island's 2,000 residents were ordered to evacuate, but only about 800 did so, Grand Isle Alderman Robert Collins said.
"They didn't take it serious enough," he said.
The storm blew apart trailer homes in Venice, on the coast, and snapped power poles in Plaquemines Parish below New Orleans, which received only isolated squalls. CAPTION: HURRICANE DANNY As of 9 p.m. yesterday, storm was moving east northeast at 6 mph. Warnings are from Grand Isle, La., to Destin, Fla.